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Kinderstart Case Against Google Inches Ahead

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Blogcritics.org reported in March on a lawsuit filed by Kinderstart.com against Google Inc., and while Google is trying to have the case dismissed, a judge in San Jose has hinted that he will probably allow the case to proceed after some modification to add more specifics.

Kinderstart claims that Google re-ranked their site in March 2005 and caused their traffic to drop 70%, which in turn caused their AdSense revenue to drop 80%. Kinderstart claims that Google violates antitrust laws in delivering rankings based on secret criteria. The suit seeks damages, but more importantly, it seeks disclosure of the methods Google uses to rank sites. It calls Google’s practices anti-competitive, and it was this claim of anti-competitive behavior leading to antitrust that caused U.S. District Court Justice Jeremy Fogel to suggest that he intends to let the case proceed. A hearing in the case has been set for September 29, 2006.

A claim that Google violated the first-amendment rights of Kinderstart did not seem to move the judge.

As websites seek traffic, search engine ranking — primarily Google’s “pagerank” — is crucial. Very few sites manage to build a sustained audience of repeat visitors, and most rely heavily on a steady stream of visitor from search engines, especially market-leader Google. As Google tweaks their index every few months, the resulting “Googledance” sends webmasters around the world into fits of either laughter or tears as their sites climb or drop in the rankings. Several lawsuits have been filed against Google before, but Kinderstart’s is the first to make it this far, though the case is still in the preliminary stages.

Such cases are usually unsuccessful, because Google can claim a first-amendment right to rank websites according to whatever criteria they wish, just as other organizations — including Blogcritics.org — rank movies or restaurants. Jonathan Jacobson, an attorney for the firm representing Google, argues that Google has no obligation to help Kinderstart, comparing the case to one involving a Pepsi bottler seeking a percentage of Coke-owned vending machines. That suit lost.

Kinderstart’s attorney, Gregory Yu, says, “What Google is trying to do is take out the competition.”

Google claims that there is no human involvement in determining how websites are ranked, but that everything is the result of complex and proprietary algorithms. At the same time, it maintains that it has a right to downgrade any website’s ranking, including those of competitors, and including Kinderstart.com.

Kinderstart’s claim is that Google reduced their pagerank to zero, though my attempt to verify this revealed a pagerank of seven (out of ten). However, queries for “toddler,” “infant,” or even “kinderstart” did not reveal Kinderstart.com on the first page of results, as they say they had been prior to March 2005. People who work in the Search Engine Optimization industry have suggested that the reason Kinderstart.com is ranked so poorly has less to do with pagerank, and more to do with Google’s general de-emphasis on “link lists,” like most of Kinderstart.com.

On September 29, 2006, we will find out whether we might learn more.

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About pwinn

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I would think someone out there is at least toying with the idea of creating a Wayback Machine for search engine results so that they can track this kind of stuff.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Couldn’t that be defined as “meta-searching” Google, in a way? If so, it’s a practice specifically forbidden in the Terms of Service to which every Google user must click their agreement.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I’m not sure if I exactly understand you, Victor, but I suspect you’re correct. A company would likely(?) need to get Google’s agreement to legally publish a historical record of its search results, something Google would certainly not allow.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    I wrote this up without my opinion above, but I’ll tell you what I really think: Kinderstart are going to lose, and they’re not showing up because their site doesn’t provide value.

    Look, we’ve been bitten by Google re-ranking here at BC before, and I know it’s mind-bogglingly painful. Out-of-business painful in many cases. It sucks, hard. The answer, of course, is to have a great site, and appeal your case as hard as you can. Kinderstart missed on step one, because their site isn’t great. It isn’t even good.

    It’s a list of links, and that’s all. Absolutely zero original content anywhere on the site.

    Are lists of links valuable? In one sense, a great list can be considered useful, sure. Hand-picked, finely tuned, maybe. But then, Google manages to produce a list of links every time someone enters a search term, with little or no human involvement. Lists of links are valuable only in a very specialized and silly sense, and Kinderstart’s isn’t even well-organized, really.

  • http://www.digital50.com/news G C Pick

    I’ve followed the Kinderstart issue in the news.. over the past few months and am a little confused as to what EXACTLY Kinderstart is saying.

    O.K. so the KinderStart Web Site dropped in rankings. It is widely known that Google and other Search Engines change their algorythms regularly to create a better search experience and to thwart the attempts of ill-motived Internet Developers who constantly try to manipulate the data in their sites to trick the search engines into delivering their content before other, often more relavent, digital information.

    So, basically, my understanding of the case is that Kinderstart is saying that it finally got to know the Google process well enough to put its results into the top of the results and then, suddenly, without warning, Google singled them out, for some reason, and dropped their rankings.

    I think it is important, in this case, to determine if the regular changes to Google’s Algorythm were the cause of Kinderstart’s drop in rankings, if Kinderstart made a change in their Search Site which could have caused the issue or if Google really did just try to “take out the competition”.

    I’d like to see if other Web Sites were affected in a similar way and whether or not they would be considered “competition” for Google.

    It seems a little peculiar to me that Google is making money off of the Kinderstart site and, with other sites delivering ads from Yahoo and other competitors, it is difficult for me to believe that Google would want to put less relevance on sites displaying their own ads.

    I would also like to know, without Google revealing their secret ranking algorythm, the basic reasoning, in Google’s words, for Kinderstart’s new rank.

    G C P. adn1.com

  • yo mama

    better search experience my ass,

    fuck google,

    use scroogle.org

  • http://www.searchenginehonesty.com/ Vectorx

    Kinderstart claims Google “manually” altered their PageRank for anti-competitive reasons. Sure Google can say Kinderstart was just caught by a change in the algorithm, but what if Google specifically altered their algorithm to suppress PageRank uniquely for Kinderstart and presumably a long list of other specific sites? This is called “site-unique bias” and is certainly technically possible.

    Also Kinderstart claims to have been defamed since Google displays their PR=0 to toolbar and Google Directory users and tells users that Kinderstart’s (or anyone’s displayed PageRank) is “honest” and an indication of “importance” derived from an automated analysis of links to the site. If this is a deliberate lie and Google is manually manufacturing PageRank then Kinderstart has a valid case. It seems to me the only way to find out is have a trial. See my site for long discussion of these issues.